Hawthorn captain Luke Hodge and Liam Shiels in front of a promotional sign that supporters can take photos with before Monday’s Hawthorn-Geelong game at the MCG. Photo: Wayne TaylorFollow the Age Sport on Twitter
Hawthorn have locked away two of the club’s most important current and future leaders, with captain Luke Hodge signing a one-year contract extension that will see him play on for a 15th season and midfielder Liam Shiels agreeing to a new four-year deal.
While Hodge’s deal will take him through to the end of the 2016 season, Shiels was happy to delay his free agency options by signing the long-term deal that will keep him a Hawk until the end of 2019.
Hodge has missed just five games in the past two seasons after struggling with a knee problem for much of 2012, and averaged 25 possessions per game last year while leading the club to a second consecutive flag.
Still just 23, Shiels will start his seventh season against Geelong on Monday as one of the club’s steadiest and most reliable midfielders, the Hawks’ leading inside-50 player in 2014.
The onballer was drafted as a 17-year-old at the end of 2008, the year before the draft age was increased to 18, and has been a regular member of the senior side since.
He was one of three young Hawks to captain the club throughout its pre-season program and while keen to lead the side in a more permanent way one day, realises he is part of a long queue and has plenty still to learn from the likes of Hodge, Sam Mitchell, Jordan Lewis, Jarryd Roughead and Josh Gibson.
“I’d love that opportunity, but I’m still pretty young and I feel like all of us emerging leaders should be using this time to learn what we can from those guys while they’re still here,” Shiels told Fairfax Media.
“When you first get to the club you worry so much about yourself and how you can get a kick, and then as you get older and are here for a bit longer you’re all about the team and starting to see how important it is for you to do what you can to help the younger guys develop.
“I’m always trying to learn as much as I can about leadership and about on-field performance, and all our leaders do things in different ways, so there are things to pick up from all of them.
“One of our main aims as the younger leaders coming through is to do what we can for the younger boys, partly because we can relate to them a little bit better than the guys who are older than us, but also because it’s a way of learning and putting some of those things into practice.”
Shiels led a young Hawthorn side in its opening NAB Challenge side, with Ben Stratton and Isaac Smith taking their turn in the other two games.
“I loved it. It was a great experience. It was something that took me out of my comfort zone, but something that I really enjoyed,” Shiels said.
“The first time you do anything you’re always going to feel a little bit nervous, and it was our first real hit-out for the year so there were some nerves that came just through that.
“The only real difference was that you’re the one who has to toss the coin, and you’re the one talking to the boys before the game and at half-time.
“Other than that, all you do is just try to play your natural game, but it was good to have to think through all of it. It gave all three of us a real feel for it. Even though we were playing with such a young side it wasn’t something you could do without putting a bit of thought into it.”
Signing a long-term deal was not a complicated decision for Shiels, who will play his 103rd game against the Cats. “It’s a long contract and it will keep me here for a while so it was a big decision in that way, but also a pretty easy one because I love it here and have never had a thought about leaving this club,” Shiels said.
“I love the club, I love the culture, I have some great mates here and I think we have a lot of things left to achieve. Every footballer wants to play in premierships, so hopefully between now and the end of 2019 we can be there on the last Saturday in September a few more times.
“I think we’ve got a good young group here, and the things we’re still learning off the experienced blokes makes me think there’s no reason that can’t happen.”
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